HISTORY OF FRIEDRICH II OF PRUSSIA
FREDERICK THE GREAT
By Thomas Carlyle
BOOK X. — AT REINSBERG. - 1736-1740.
Chapter I. — MANSION OF REINSBERG.
On the Crown-Prince's Marriage, three years ago, when the AMT or Government-District RUPPIN, with its incomings, was assigned to him for revenue, we heard withal of a residence getting ready. Hint had fallen from the Prince, that Reinsberg, an old Country-seat, standing with its Domain round it in that little Territory of Ruppin, and probably purchasable as was understood, might be pleasant, were it once his and well put in repair. Which hint the kind paternal Majesty instantly proceeded to act upon. He straightway gave orders for the purchase of Reinsberg; concluded said purchase, on fair terms, after some months' bargaining; [23d October, 1733, order given,—16th March, 1734, purchase completed (Preuss, i. 75).]—and set his best Architect, one Kemeter, to work, in concert with the Crown-Prince, to new-build and enlarge the decayed Schloss of Reinsberg into such a Mansion as the young Royal Highness and his Wife would like.
Kemeter has been busy, all this while; a solid, elegant, yet frugal builder: and now the main body of the Mansion is complete, or nearly so, the wings and adjuncts going steadily forward; Mansion so far ready that the Royal Highnesses can take up their abode in it. Which they do, this Autumn, 1736; and fairly commence Joint Housekeeping, in a permanent manner. Hitherto it has been intermittent only: hitherto the Crown-Princess has resided in their Berlin Mansion, or in her own Country-house at Schonhausen; Husband not habitually with her, except when on leave of absence from Ruppin, in Carnival time or for shorter periods. At Ruppin his life has been rather that of a bachelor, or husband abroad on business; up to this time. But now at Reinsberg they do kindle the sacred hearth together; "6th August, 1736," the date of that important event. They have got their Court about them, dames and cavaliers more than we expected; they have arranged the furnitures of their existence here on fit scale, and set up their Lares and Penates on a thrifty footing. Majesty and Queen come out on a visit to them next month; [4th September, 1736 (Ib.).]—raising the sacred hearth into its first considerable blaze, and crowning the operation in a human manner.
And so there has a new epoch arisen for the Crown-Prince and his Consort. A new, and much-improved one. It lasted into the fourth year; rather improving all the way: and only Kingship, which, if a higher sphere, was a far less pleasant one, put an end to it. Friedrich's happiest time was this at Reinsberg; the little Four Years of Hope, Composure, realizable Idealism: an actual snatch of something like the Idyllic, appointed him in a life-pilgrimage consisting otherwise of realisms oftenest contradictory enough, and sometimes of very grim complexion. He is master of his work, he is adjusted to the practical conditions set him; conditions once complied with, daily work done, he lives to the Muses, to the spiritual improvements, to the social enjoyments; and has, though not without flaws of ill-weather,—from the Tobacco-Parliament perhaps rather less than formerly, and from the Finance-quarter perhaps rather more,—a sunny time. His innocent insipidity of a Wife, too, appears to have been happy. She had the charm of youth, of good looks; a wholesome perfect loyalty of character withal; and did not "take to pouting," as was once apprehended of her, but pleasantly gave and received of what was going. This poor Crown-Princess, afterwards Queen, has been heard, in her old age, reverting, in a touching transient way, to the glad days she had at Reinsberg. Complaint openly was never heard from her, in any kind of days; but these doubtless were the best of her life.
Reinsberg, we said, is in the AMT Ruppin; naturally under the Crown-Prince's government at present: the little Town or Village of Reinsberg stands about, ten miles north of the Town Ruppin;—not quite a third-part as big as Ruppin is in our time, and much more pleasantly situated. The country about is of comfortable, not unpicturesque character; to be distinguished almost as beautiful, in that region of sand and moor. Lakes abound in it; tilled fields; heights called "hills;" and wood of fair growth,—one reads of "beech-avenues" of "high linden-avenues:"—a country rather of the ornamented sort, before the Prince with his improvements settled there. Many lakes and lakelets in it, as usual hereabouts; the loitering waters straggle, all over that region, into meshes of lakes. Reinsberg itself, Village and Schloss, stands on the edge of a pleasant Lake, last of a mesh of such: the SUMMARY, or outfall, of which, already here a good strong brook or stream, is called the RHEIN, Rhyn or Rein; and gives name to the little place. We heard of the Rein at Ruppin: it is there counted as a kind of river; still more, twenty miles farther down, where it falls into the Havel, on its way to the Elbe. The waters, I think, are drab-colored, not peat-brown: and here, at the source, or outfall from that mesh of lakes, where Reinsberg is, the country seems to be about the best;—sufficient, in picturesqueness and otherwise, to satisfy a reasonable man.
The little Town is very old; but, till the Crown-Prince settled there, had no peculiar vitality in it. I think there are now some potteries, glass-manufactories: Friedrich Wilhelm, just while the Crown-Prince was removing thither, settled a first Glass-work there; which took good root, and rose to eminence in the crystal, Bohemian-crystal, white-glass, cut-glass, and other commoner lines, in the Crown-Prince's time. [Bescheibung des Lutschlosses &c. zu Reinsberg (Berlin, 1788); Author, a "Lieutenant Hennert," thoroughly acquainted with his subject.]
Reinsberg stands on the east or southeast side of its pretty Lake: Lake is called "the GRINERICK SEE" (as all those remote Lakes have their names); Mansion is between the Town and Lake. A Mansion fronting, we may say, four ways; for it is of quadrangular form, with a wet moat from the Lake begirdling it, and has a spacious court for interior: but the principal entrance is from the Town side; for the rest, the Building is ashlar on all sides, front and rear. Stands there, handsomely abutting on the Lake with two Towers, a Tower at each angle, which it has on that lakeward side; and looks, over Reinsberg, and its steeple rising amid friendly umbrage which hides the house-tops, towards the rising sun. Townward there is room for a spacious esplanade; and then for the stables, outbuildings, well masked; which still farther shut off the Town. To this day, Reinsberg stands with the air of a solid respectable Edifice; still massive, rain-tight, though long since deserted by the Princeships,—by Friedrich nearly sixscore years ago, and nearly threescore by Prince Henri, Brother of Friedrich's, who afterwards had it. Last accounts I got were, of talk there had risen of planting an extensive NORMAL-SCHOOL there; which promising plan had been laid aside again for the time.
The old Schloss, residence of the Bredows and other feudal people for a long while, had good solid masonry in it, and around it orchards, potherb gardens; which Friedrich Wilhelm's Architects took good care to extend and improve, not to throw away: the result of their art is what we see, a beautiful Country-House, what might be called a Country-Palace with all its adjuncts;—and at a rate of expense which would fill English readers, of this time, with amazement. Much is admirable to us as we study Reinsberg, what it had been, what it became, and how it was made; but nothing more so than the small modicum of money it cost. To our wondering thought, it seems as if the shilling, in those parts, were equal to the guinea in these; and the reason, if we ask it, is by no means flattering altogether. "Change in the value of money?" Alas, reader, no; that is not above the fourth part of the phenomenon. Three-fourths of the phenomenon are change in the methods of administering money,—difference between managing it with wisdom and veracity on both sides, and managing it with unwisdom and mendacity on both sides. Which is very great indeed; and infinitely sadder than any one, in these times, will believe!—But we cannot dwell on this consideration. Let the reader take it with him, as a constant accompaniment in whatever work of Friedrich Wilhelm's or of Friedrich his Son's, he now or at any other time may be contemplating. Impious waste, which means disorder and dishonesty, and loss of much other than money to all, parties,—disgusting aspect of human creatures, master and servant, working together as if they were not human,—will be spared him in those foreign departments; and in an English heart thoughts will arise, perhaps, of a wholesome tendency, though very sad, as times are.
It would but weary the reader to describe this Crown-Prince Mansion; which, by desperate study of our abstruse materials, it is possible to do with auctioneer minuteness. There are engraved VIEWS of Reinsberg and its Environs; which used to lie conspicuous in the portfolios of collectors,—-which I have not seen. [See Hennert, just cited, for the titles of them.] Of the House itself, engraved Frontages (FACADES), Ground-plans, are more accessible; and along with them, descriptions which are little descriptive,—wearisomely detailed, and as it were dark by excess of light (auctioneer light) thrown on them. The reader sees, in general, a fine symmetrical Block of Buildings, standing in rectangular shape, in the above locality;—about two hundred English feet, each, the two longer sides measure, the Townward and the Lakeward, on their outer front: about a hundred and thirty, each, the two shorter; or a hundred and fifty, taking in their Towers just spoken of. The fourth or Lakeward side, however, which is one of the longer pair, consists mainly of "Colonnade;" spacious Colonnade "with vases and statues;" catching up the outskirts of said Towers, and handsomely uniting everything.
Beyond doubt, a dignified, substantial pile of stone-work; all of good proportions. Architecture everywhere of cheerfully serious, solidly graceful character; all of sterling ashlar; the due RISALITES (projecting spaces) with their attics and statues atop, the due architraves, cornices and corbels,—in short the due opulence of ornament being introduced, and only the due. Genuine sculptors, genuine painters, artists have been busy; and in fact all the suitable fine arts, and all the necessary solid ones, have worked together, with a noticeable fidelity, comfortable to the very beholder to this day. General height is about forty feet; two stories of ample proportions: the Towers overlooking them are sixty feet in height. Extent of outer frontage, if you go all round, and omit the Colonnade, will be five hundred feet and more: this, with the rearward face, is a thousand feet of room frontage:—fancy the extent of lodging space. For "all the kitchens and appurtenances are underground;" the "left front" (which is a new part of the Edifice) rising comfortably over these. Windows I did not count; but they must go high up into the Hundreds. No end to lodging space. Way in a detached side-edifice subsequently built, called Cavalier House, I read of there being, for one item, "fifty lodging rooms," and for another "a theatre." And if an English Duke of Trumps were to look at the bills for all that, his astonishment would be extreme, and perhaps in a degree painful and salutary to him.
In one of these Towers the Crown-Prince has his Library: a beautiful apartment; nothing wanting to it that the arts could furnish, "ceiling done by Pesne" with allegorical geniuses and what not,—looks out on mere sky, mere earth and water in an ornamental state: silent as in Elysium. It is there we are to fancy the Correspondence written, the Poetries and literary industries going on. There, or stepping down for a turn in the open air, or sauntering meditatively under the Colonnade with its statues and vases (where weather is no object), one commands the Lake, with its little tufted Islands, "Remus Island" much famed among them, and "high beech-woods" on the farther side. The Lake is very pretty, all say; lying between you and the sunset;—with perhaps some other lakelet, or solitary pool in the wilderness, many miles away, "revealing itself as a cup of molten gold," at that interesting moment. What the Book-Collection was, in the interior, I know not except by mere guess.
The Crown-Princess's Apartment, too, which remained unaltered at the last accounts had of it, [From Hennert, namely, in 1778.] is very fine;—take the anteroom for specimen: "This fine room," some twenty feet height of ceiling, "has six windows; three of them, in the main front, looking towards the Town, the other three, towards the Interior Court. The light from these windows is heightened by mirrors covering all the piers (SCHAFTE, interspaces of the walls), to an uncommonly splendid pitch; and shows the painting of the ceiling, which again is by the famous Pesne, to much perfection. The Artist himself, too, has managed to lay on his colors there so softly, and with such delicate skill, that the light-beams seem to prolong themselves in the painted clouds and air, as if it were the real sky you had overhead." There in that cloud-region "Mars is being disarmed by the Love-goddesses, and they are sporting with his weapons. He stretches out his arm towards the Goddess, who looks upon him with fond glances. Cupids are spreading out a draping." That is Pesne's luxurious performance in the ceiling.—"Weapon-festoons, in basso-relievo, gilt, adorn the walls of this room; and two Pictures, also by Pesne, which represent, in life size, the late King and Queen [our good friends Friedrich Wilhelm and his Sophie], are worthy of attention. Over each of the doors, you find in low-relief the Profiles of Hannibal, Pompey, Scipio, Caesar, introduced as Medallions."
All this is very fine; but all this is little to another ceiling, in some big Saloon elsewhere, Music-saloon, I think: Black Night, making off, with all her sickly dews, at one end of the ceiling; and at the other end, the Steeds of Phoebus bursting forth, and the glittering shafts of Day,—with Cupids, Love-goddesses, War-gods, not omitting Bacchus and his vines, all getting beautifully awake in consequence. A very fine room indeed;—used as a Music-saloon, or I know not what,—and the ceiling of it almost an ideal, say the connoisseurs.
Endless gardens, pavilions, grottos, hermitages, orangeries, artificial ruins, parks and pleasances surround this favored spot and its Schloss; nothing wanting in it that a Prince's establishment needs,—except indeed it be hounds, for which this Prince never had the least demand.
Except the old Ruppin duties, which imply continual journeyings thither, distance only a morning's ride; except these, and occasional commissions from Papa, Friedrich is left master of his time and pursuits in this new Mansion. There are visits to Potsdam, periodical appearances at Berlin; some Correspondence to keep the Tobacco-Parliament in tune. But Friedrich's taste is for the Literatures, Philosophies: a—young Prince bent seriously to cultivate his mind; to attain some clear knowledge of this world, so all-important to him. And he does seriously read, study and reflect a good deal; his main recreations, seemingly, are Music, and the converse of well-informed, friendly men. In Music we find him particularly rich. Daily, at a fixed hour of the afternoon, there is concert held; the reader has seen in what kind of room: and if the Artists entertained here for that function were enumerated (high names, not yet forgotten in the Musical world), it would still more astonish readers. I count them to the number of twenty or nineteen; and mention only that "the two Brothers Graun" and "the two Brothers Benda" were of the lot; suppressing four other Fiddlers of eminence, and "a Pianist who is known to everybody." [Hennert, p. 21.] The Prince has a fine sensibility to Music: does himself, with thrilling adagios on the flute, join in these harmonious acts; and, no doubt, if rightly vigilant against the Nonsenses, gets profit, now and henceforth, from this part of his resources.
He has visits, calls to make, on distinguished persons within reach; he has much Correspondence, of a Literary or Social nature. For instance, there is Suhm the Saxon Envoy translating Wolf's Philosophy into French for him; sending it in fascicles; with endless Letters to and from, upon it,—which were then highly interesting, but are now dead to every reader. The Crown-Prince has got a Post-Office established at Reinsberg; leathern functionary of some sort comes lumbering round, southward, "from the Mecklenburg quarter twice a week, and goes by Fehrbellin," for the benefit of his Correspondences. Of his calls in the neighborhood, we mean to show the reader one sample, before long; and only one.
There are Lists given us of the Prince's "Court" at Reinsberg; and one reads, and again reads, the dreariest unmemorable accounts of them; but cannot, with all one's industry, attain any definite understanding of what they were employed in, day after day, at Reinsberg:—still more are their salaries and maintenance a mystery to us, in that frugal establishment. There is Wolden for Hofmarschall, our old Custrin friend; there is Colonel Senning, old Marlborough Colonel with the wooden leg, who taught Friedrich his drillings and artillery-practices in boyhood, a fine sagacious old gentleman this latter. There is a M. Jordan, Ex-Preacher, an ingenious Prussian-Frenchman, still young, who acts as "Reader and Librarian;" of whom we shall hear a good deal more. "Intendant" is Captain (Ex-Captain) Knobelsdorf; a very sensible accomplished man, whom we saw once at Baireuth; who has been to Italy since, and is now returned with beautiful talents for Architecture: it is he that now undertakes the completing of Reinsberg, [Hennert, p. 29.] which he will skilfully accomplish in the course of the next three years. Twenty Musicians on wind or string; Painters, Antoine Pesne but one of them; Sculptors, Glume and others of eminence; and Hof-Cavaliers, to we know not what extent:—how was such a Court kept up, in harmonious free dignity, and no halt in its finances, or mean pinch of any kind visible? The Prince did get in debt; but not deep, and it was mainly for the tall recruits he had to purchase. His money-accounts are by no means fully known to me: but I should question if his expenditure (such is my guess) ever reached 3,000 pounds a year; and am obliged to reflect more and more, as the ancient Cato did, what an admirable revenue frugality is!
Many of the Cavaliers, I find, for one thing, were of the Regiment Goltz; that was one evident economy. "Rittmeister van Chasot," as the Books call him: readers saw that Chasot flying to Prince Eugene, and know him since the Siege of Philipsburg. He is not yet Rittmeister, or Captain of Horse, as he became; but is of the Ruppin Garrison; Hof-Cavalier; "attended Friedrich on his late Prussian journey;" and is much a favorite, when he can be spared from Ruppin. Captain Wylich, afterwards a General of mark; the Lieutenant Buddenbrock who did the parson-charivari at Ruppin, but is now reformed from those practices: all these are of Goltz. Colonel Keyserling, not of Goltz, nor in active military duty here, is a friend of very old standing; was officially named as "Companion" to the Prince, a long while back; and got into trouble on his account in the disastrous Ante-Custrin or Flight Epoch: one of the Prince's first acts, when he got pardoned after Custrin, was to beg for the pardon of this Keyserling; and now he has him here, and is very fond of him. A Courlander, of good family, this Keyserling; of good gifts too,—which, it was once thought, would be practically sublime; for he carried off all manner of college prizes, and was the Admirable-Crichton of Konigsberg University and the Graduates there. But in the end they proved to be gifts of the vocal sort rather: and have led only to what we see. A man, I should guess, rather of buoyant vivacity than of depth or strength in intellect or otherwise. Excessively buoyant, ingenious; full of wit, kindly exuberance; a loyal-hearted, gay-tempered man, and much a favorite in society as well as with the Prince. If we were to dwell on Reinsberg, Keyserling would come prominently forward.
Major van Stille, ultimately Major-General von Stille, I should also mention: near twenty years older than the Prince; a wise thoughtful soldier (went, by permission, to the Siege of Dantzig lately, to improve himself); a man capable of rugged service, when the time comes. His military writings were once in considerable esteem with professional men; and still impress a lay reader with favorable notions towards Stille, as a man of real worth and sense. [Campagnes du Roi de Prusse;—a posthumous Book; ANTERIOR to the Seven-Years War.]
OF MONSIEUR JORDAN AND THE LITERARY SET.
There is, of course, a Chaplain in the Establishment: a Reverend "M. Deschamps;" who preaches to them all,—in French no doubt. Friedrich never hears Deschamps: Friedrich is always over at Ruppin on Sundays; and there "himself reads a sermon to the Garrison," as part of the day's duties. Reads finely, in a melodious feeling manner, says Formey, who can judge: "even in his old days, he would incidentally," when some Emeritus Parson, like Formey, chanced to be with him, "roll out choice passages from Bossuet, from Massillon," in a voice and with a look, which would have been perfection in the pulpit, thinks Formey. [Souvenirs d'un Citoyen (2de edition, Paris, 1797), i. 37.]
M. Jordan, though he was called "LECTEUR (Reader)," did not read to him, I can perceive; but took charge of the Books; busied himself honestly to be useful in all manner of literary or quasi-literary ways. He was, as his name indicates, from the French-refugee department; a recent acquisition, much valued at Reinsberg. As he makes a figure afterwards, we had better mark him a little.
Jordan's parents were wealthy religious persons, in trade at Berlin; this Jordan (Charles Etienne, age now thirty-six) was their eldest son. It seems they had destined him from birth, consulting their own pious feelings merely, to be a Preacher of the Gospel; the other sons, all of them reckoned clever too, were brought up to secular employments. And preach he, this poor Charles Etienne, accordingly did; what best Gospel he had; in an honest manner, all say,—though never with other than a kind of reluctance on the part of Nature, forced out of her course. He had wedded, been clergyman in two successive country places; when his wife died, leaving him one little daughter, and a heart much overset by that event. Friends, wealthy Brothers probably, had pushed him out into the free air, in these circumstances: "Take a Tour; Holland, England; feel the winds blowing, see the sun shining, as in times past: it will do you good!"
Jordan, in the course of his Tour, came to composure on several points. He found that, by frugality, by wise management of some peculium already his, his little Daughter and he might have quietness at Berlin, and the necessary food and raiment;—and, on the whole, that he would altogether cease preaching, and settle down there, among his Books, in a frugal manner. Which he did;—and was living so, when the Prince, searching for that kind of person, got tidings of him. And here he is at Reinsberg; bustling about, in a brisk, modestly frank and cheerful manner: well liked by everybody; by his Master very well and ever better, who grew into real regard, esteem and even friendship for him, and has much Correspondence, of a freer kind than is common to him, with little Jordan, so long as they lived together. Jordan's death, ten years hence, was probably the one considerable pain he had ever given his neighbors, in this the ultimate section of his life.
I find him described, at Reinsberg, as a small nimble figure, of Southern-French aspect; black, uncommonly bright eyes; and a general aspect of adroitness, modesty, sense, sincerity; good prognostics, which on acquaintance with the man were pleasantly fulfilled.
For the sake of these considerations, I fished out, from the Old-Book Catalogues and sea of forgetfulness, some of the poor Books he wrote; especially a Voyage Litteraire, [Histoire d'un Voyage Litteraire fait, en MDCCXXXIII., en France, en Angleterre et en Hollande (2de edition, a La Haye, 1736).] Journal of that first Sanitary Excursion or Tour he took, to get the clouds blown from his mind. A LITERARY VOYAGE which awakens a kind of tragic feeling; being itself dead, and treating of matters which are all gone dead. So many immortal writers, Dutch chiefly, whom Jordan is enabled to report as having effloresced, or being soon to effloresce, in such and such forms, of Books important to be learned: leafy, blossomy Forest of Literature, waving glorious in the then sunlight to Jordan;—and it lies all now, to Jordan and us, not withered only, but abolished; compressed into a film of indiscriminate PEAT. Consider what that peat is made of, O celebrated or uncelebrated reader, and take a moral from Jordan's Book! Other merit, except indeed clearness and commendable brevity, the Voyage Litteraire or other little Books of Jordan's have not now. A few of his Letters to Friedrich, which exist, are the only writings with the least life left in them, and this an accidental life, not momentous to him or us. Dryasdust informs me, "Abbe Jordan, alone of the Crown-Prince's cavaliers, sleeps in the Town of Reinsberg, not in the Schloss:" and if I ask, Why?—there is no answer. Probably his poor little Daughterkin was beside him there?—
We have to say of Friedrich's Associates, that generally they were of intelligent type, each of them master of something or other, and capable of rational discourse upon that at least. Integrity, loyalty of character, was indispensable; good humor, wit if it could be had, were much in request. There was no man of shining distinction there; but they were the best that could be had, and that is saying all. Friedrich cannot be said, either as Prince or as King, to have been superlatively successful in his choice of associates. With one single exception, to be noticed shortly, there is not one of them whom we should now remember except for Friedrich's sake;—uniformly they are men whom it is now a weariness to hear of, except in a cursory manner. One man of shining parts he had, and one only; no man ever of really high and great mind. The latter sort are not so easy to get; rarely producible on the soil of this Earth! Nor is it certain how Friedrich might have managed with one of this sort, or he with Friedrich;—though Friedrich unquestionably would have tried, had the chance offered. For he loved intellect as few men on the throne, or off it, ever did; and the little he could gather of it round him often seems to me a fact tragical rather than otherwise.
With the outer Berlin social world, acting and reacting, Friedrich has his connections, which obscurely emerge on us now and then. Literary Eminences, who are generally of Theological vesture; any follower of Philosophy, especially if he be of refined manners withal, or known in fashionable life, is sure to attract him; and gains ample recognition at Reinsberg or on Town-visits. But the Berlin Theological or Literary world at that time, still more the Berlin Social, like a sunk extinct object, continues very dim in those old records; and to say truth, what features we have of it do not invite to miraculous efforts for farther acquaintance. Venerable Beausobre, with his History of the Manicheans, [Histoire critique de Manichee et du Manicheisme: wrote also Remarques &c. sur le Nouveau Testament, which were once famous; Histoire de la Reformation; &c. &c. He is Beausobre SENIOR; there were two Sons (one of them born in second wedlock, after Papa was 70), who were likewise given to writing.—See Formey, Souvenirs d'un Citoyen since, in Toland and the Republican Queen's time, as a light of the world. He is now fourscore, grown white as snow; very serene, polite, with a smack of French noblesse in him, perhaps a smack of affectation traceable too. The Crown-Prince, on one of his Berlin visits, wished to see this Beausobre; got a meeting appointed, in somebody's rooms "in the French College," and waited for the venerable man. Venerable man entered, loftily serene as a martyr Preacher of the Word, something of an ancient Seigneur de Beausobre in him, too; for the rest, soft as sunset, and really with fine radiances, in a somewhat twisted state, in that good old mind of his. "What have you been reading lately, M. de Beausobre?" said the Prince, to begin conversation. "Ah, Monseigneur, I have just risen from reading the sublimest piece of writing that exists."—"And what?" "The exordium of St. John's Gospel: In the Beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God, and the Word was—" Which somewhat took the Prince by surprise, as Formey reports; though he rallied straightway, and got good conversation out of the old gentleman. To whom, we perceive, he writes once or twice, [OEuvres de Frederic, 121-126. Dates are all of 1737; the last of Beausobre's years.]—a copy of his own verses to correct, on one occasion,—and is very respectful and considerate.
Formey tells us of another French sage, personally known to the Prince since Boyhood; for he used to be about the Palace, doing something. This is one La Croze; Professor of, I think, "Philosophy" in the French College: sublime Monster of Erudition, at that time; forgotten now, I fear, by everybody. Swag-bellied, short of wind; liable to rages, to utterances of a coarse nature; a decidedly ugly, monstrous and rather stupid kind of man. Knew twenty languages, in a coarse inexact way. Attempted deep kinds of discourse, in the lecture-room and elsewhere; but usually broke off into endless welters of anecdote, not always of cleanly nature; and after every two or three words, a desperate sigh, not for sorrow, but on account of flabbiness and fat. Formey gives a portraiture of him; not worth copying farther. The same Formey, standing one day somewhere on the streets of Berlin, was himself, he cannot doubt, SEEN by the Crown-Prince in passing; "who asked M. Jordan, who that was," and got answer:—is not that a comfortable fact? Nothing farther came of it;—respectable Ex-Parson Formey, though ever ready with his pen, being indeed of very vapid nature, not wanted at Reinsberg, as we can guess.
There is M. Achard, too, another Preacher, supreme of his sort, in the then Berlin circles; to whom or from whom a Letter or two exist. Letters worthless, if it were not for one dim indication: That, on inquiry, the Crown-Prince had been consulting this supreme Achard on the difficulties of Orthodoxy; [OEuvres de Frederic, xvi. pp. 112-117: date, March-June, 1736.] and had given him texts, or a text, to preach from. Supreme Achard did not abolish the difficulties for his inquiring Prince,—who complains respectfully that "his faith is weak," and leaves us dark as to particulars. This Achard passage is almost the only hint we have of what might have been an important chapter: Friedrich's Religious History at Reinsberg. The expression "weak faith" I take to be meant not in mockery, but in ingenuous regret and solicitude; much painful fermentation, probably, on the religious question in those Reinsberg years! But the old "GNADENWAHL" business, the Free-Grace controversy, had taught him to be cautious as to what he uttered on those points. The fermentation, therefore, had to go on under cover; what the result of it was, is notorious enough; though the steps of the process are not in any point known.
Enough now of such details. Outwardly or inwardly, there is no History, or almost none, to be had of this Reinsberg Period; the extensive records of it consisting, as usual, mainly of chaotic nugatory matter, opaque to the mind of readers. There is copious correspondence of the Crown-Prince, with at least dates to it for most part: but this, which should be the main resource, proves likewise a poor one; the Crown-Prince's Letters, now or afterwards, being almost never of a deep or intimate quality; and seldom turning on events or facts at all, and then not always on facts interesting, on facts clearly apprehensible to us in that extinct element.
The Thing, we know always, IS there; but vision of the Thing is only to be had faintly, intermittently. Dim inane twilight, with here and there a transient SPARK falling somewhither in it;—you do at last, by desperate persistence, get to discern outlines, features:—"The Thing cannot always have been No-thing," you reflect! Outlines, features:—and perhaps, after all, those are mostly what the reader wants on this occasion.
Chapter II. — OF VOLTAIRE AND THE LITERARY CORRESPONDENCES.
One of Friedrich's grand purposes at Reinsberg, to himself privately the grandest there, which he follows with constant loyalty and ardor, is that of scaling the heights of the Muses' Hill withal; of attaining mastership, discipleship, in Art and Philosophy;—or in candor let us call it, what it truly was, that of enlightening and fortifying himself with clear knowledge, clear belief, on all sides; and acquiring some spiritual panoply in which to front the coming practicalities of life. This, he feels well, will be a noble use of his seclusion in those still places; and it must be owned, he struggles and endeavors towards this, with great perseverance, by all the methods in his power, here, or wherever afterwards he might be.
Here at Reinsberg, one of his readiest methods, his pleasantest if not his usefulest, is that of getting into correspondence with the chief spirits of his time. Which accordingly he forthwith sets about, after getting into Reinsberg, and continues, as we shall see, with much assiduity. Rollin, Fontenelle, and other French lights of the then firmament,—his Letters to them exist; and could be given in some quantity: but it is better not. They are intrinsically the common Letters on such occasions: "O sublime demi-god of literature, how small are princely distinctions to such a glory as thine; thou who enterest within the veil of the temple, and issuest with thy face shining!"—To which the response is: "Hm, think you so, most happy, gracious, illustrious Prince, with every convenience round you, and such prospects ahead? Well, thank you, at any rate,—and, as the Irish say, more power to your Honor's Glory!" This really is nearly all that said Sets of Letters contain; and except perhaps the Voltaire Set, none of them give symptoms of much capacity to contain more.
Certainly there was no want of Literary Men discernible from Reinsberg at that time; and the young Prince corresponds with a good many of them; temporal potentate saluting spiritual, from the distance,—in a way highly interesting to the then parties, but now without interest, except of the reflex kind, to any creature. A very cold and empty portion, this, of the Friedrich Correspondence; standing there to testify what his admiration was for literary talent, or the great reputation of such; but in itself uninstructive utterly, and of freezing influence on the now living mind. Most of those French lights of the then firmament are gone out. Forgotten altogether; or recognized, like Rollin and others, for polished dullards, university big-wigs, and long-winded commonplace persons, deserving nothing but oblivion. To Montesquieu,—not yet called "Baron de Montesquieu" with ESPRIT DES LOIS, but "M. de Secondat" with (Anonymous) LETTRES PERSANES, and already known to the world for a person of sharp audacious eyesight,—it does not appear that Friedrich addressed any Letter, now or afterwards. No notice of Montesquieu; nor of some others, the absence of whom is a little unexpected. Probably it was want of knowledge mainly; for his appetite was not fastidious at this time. And certainly he did hit the centre of the mark, and get into the very kernel of French literature, when, in 1736, hardly yet established in his new quarters, he addressed himself to the shining figure known to us as "Arouet Junior" long since, and now called M. DE VOLTAIRE; which latter is still a name notable in Friedrich's History and that of Mankind. Friedrich's first Letter, challenging Voltaire to correspondence, dates itself 8th August, 1736; and Voltaire's Answer—the Reinsberg Household still only in its second month—was probably the brightest event which had yet befallen there.
On various accounts it will behoove us to look a good deal more strictly into this Voltaire; and, as his relations to Friedrich and to the world are so multiplex, endeavor to disengage the real likeness of the man from the circumambient noise and confusion which in his instance continue very great. "Voltaire was the spiritual complement of Friedrich," says Sauerteig once: "what little of lasting their poor Century produced lies mainly in these Two. A very somnambulating Century! But what little it DID, we must call Friedrich; what little it THOUGHT, Voltaire. Other fruit we have not from it to speak of, at this day. Voltaire, and what CAN be faithfully done on the Voltaire Creed; 'Realized Voltairism;'—admit it, reader, not in a too triumphant humor,—is not that pretty much the net historical product of the Eighteenth Century? The rest of its history either pure somnambulism; or a mere Controversy, to the effect, 'Realized Voltairism? How soon shall it be realized, then? Not at once, surely!' So that Friedrich and Voltaire are related, not by accident only. They are, they for want of better, the two Original Men of their Century; the chief and in a sense the sole products of their Century. They alone remain to us as still living results from it,—such as they are. And the rest, truly, OUGHT to depart and vanish (as they are now doing); being mere ephemera; contemporary eaters, scramblers for provender, talkers of acceptable hearsay; and related merely to the butteries and wiggeries of their time, and not related to the Perennialities at all, as these Two were."—With more of the like sort from Sauerteig.
M. de Voltaire, who used to be M. Francois-Marie Arouet, was at this time about forty, [Born 20th February, 1694; the younger of two sons: Father, "Francois Arouet, a Notary of the Chatelet, ultimately Treasurer of the Chamber of Accounts;" Mother, "Marguerite d'Aumart, of a noble family of Poitou."] and had gone through various fortunes; a man, now and henceforth, in a high degree conspicuous, and questionable to his fellow-creatures. Clear knowledge of him ought, at this stage, to be common; but unexpectedly it is not. What endless writing and biographying there has been about this man; in which one still reads, with a kind of lazy satisfaction, due to the subject, and to the French genius in that department! But the man himself, and his environment and practical aspects, what the actual physiognomy of his life and of him can have been, is dark from beginning to ending; and much is left in an ambiguous undecipherable condition to us. A proper History of Voltaire, in which should be discoverable, luminous to human creatures, what he was, what element he lived in, what work he did: this is still a problem for the genius of France!—
His Father's name is known to us; the name of his Father's profession, too, but not clearly the nature of it; still less his Father's character, economic circumstances, physiognomy spiritual or social: not the least possibility granted you of forming an image, however faint, of that notable man and household, which distinguished itself to all the earth by producing little Francois into the light of this sun. Of Madame Arouet, who, or what, or how she was, nothing whatever is known. A human reader, pestered continually with the Madame-Denises, Abbe-Mignots and enigmatic nieces and nephews, would have wished to know, at least, what children, besides Francois, Madame Arouet had: once for all, How many children? Name them, with year of birth, year of death, according to the church-registers: they all, at any rate, had that degree of history! No; even that has not been done. Beneficent correspondents of my own make answer, after some research, No register of the Arouets anywhere to be had. The very name VOLTAIRE, if you ask whence came it? there is no answer, or worse than none.—The fit "History" of this man, which might be one of the shining Epics of his Century, and the lucid summary and soul of any HISTORY France then had, but which would require almost a French demi-god to do it, is still a great way off, if on the road at all! For present purposes, we select what follows from a well-known hand:—
"YOUTH OF VOLTAIRE (1694-1725).—French Biographers have left the Arouet Household very dark for us; meanwhile we can perceive, or guess, that it was moderately well in economic respects; that Francois was the second of the Two Sons; and that old Arouet, a steady, practical and perhaps rather sharp-tempered old gentleman, of official legal habits and position, 'Notary of the Chatelet' and something else, had destined him for the Law Profession; as was natural enough to a son of M. Arouet, who had himself succeeded well in Law, and could there, best of all, open roads for a clever second son. Francois accordingly sat 'in chambers,' as we call it; and his fellow-clerks much loved him,—the most amusing fellow in the world. Sat in chambers, even became an advocate; but did not in the least take to advocateship;—took to poetry, and other airy dangerous courses, speculative, practical; causing family explosions and rebukes, which were without effect on him. A young fool, bent on sportful pursuits instead of serious; more and more shuddering at Law. To the surprise and indignation of M. Arouet Senior. Law, with its wigs and sheepskins, pointing towards high honors and deep flesh-pots, had no charms for the young fool; he could not be made to like Law.
"Whereupon arose explosions, as we hint; family explosions on the part of M. Arouet Senior; such that friends had to interfere, and it was uncertain what would come of it. One judicious friend, 'M. Caumartin,' took the young fellow home to his house in the country for a time;—and there, incidentally, brought him acquainted with old gentlemen deep in the traditions of Henri Quatre and the cognate topics; which much inflamed the young fellow, and produced big schemes in the head of him.
"M. Arouet Senior stood strong for Law; but it was becoming daily more impossible. Madrigals, dramas (not without actresses), satirical wit, airy verse, and all manner of adventurous speculation, were what this young man went upon; and was getting more and more loved for; introduced, even, to the superior circles, and recognized there as one of the brightest young fellows ever seen. Which tended, of course, to confirm him in his folly, and open other outlooks and harbors of refuge than the paternal one.
"Such things, strange to M. Arouet Senior, were in vogue then; wicked Regent d'Orleans having succeeded sublime Louis XIV., and set strange fashions to the Quality. Not likely to profit this fool Francois, thought M. Arouet Senior; and was much confirmed in his notion, when a rhymed Lampoon against the Government having come out (LES J'AI VU, as they call it ["I have seen (J'AI VU)" this ignominy occur, "I have seen" that other,—to the amount of a dozen or two;—"and am not yet twenty." Copy of it, and guess as to authorship, in OEuvres de Voltaire, i. 321.]), and become the rage, as a clever thing of the kind will, it was imputed to the brightest young fellow in France, M. Arouet's Son. Who, in fact, was not the Author; but was not believed on his denial; and saw himself, in spite of his high connections, ruthlessly lodged in the Bastille in consequence. 'Let him sit,' thought M. Arouet Senior, 'and come to his senses there!' He sat for eighteen months (age still little above twenty); but privately employed his time, not in repentance, or in serious legal studies, but in writing a Poem on his Henri Quatre. 'Epic Poem,' no less; LA LIGUE, as he then called it; which it was his hope the whole world would one day fall in love with;—as it did. Nay, in two years more, he had done a Play, OEDIPE the renowned name of it; which ran for forty-eight nights' (18th November, 1718, the first of them); and was enough to turn any head of such age. Law may be considered hopeless, even by M. Arouet Senior.
"Try him in the Diplomatic line; break these bad habits and connections, thought M. Arouet, at one time; and sent him to the French Ambassador in Holland,—on good behavior, as it were, and by way of temporary banishment. But neither did this answer. On the contrary, the young fellow got into scrapes again; got into amatory intrigues,—young lady visiting you in men's clothes, young lady's mother inveigling, and I know not what;—so that the Ambassador was glad to send him home again unmarried; marked, as it were, 'Glass, with care!' And the young lady's mother printed his Letters, not the least worth reading:—and the old M. Arouet seems now to have flung up his head; to have settled some small allowance on him, with peremptory no hope of more, and said, 'Go your own way, then, foolish junior: the elder shall be my son.' M. Arouet disappears at this point, or nearly so, from the history of his son Francois; and I think must have died in not many years. Poor old M. Arouet closed his old eyes without the least conception what a prodigious ever-memorable thing he had done unknowingly, in sending this Francois into the world, to kindle such universal 'dry dung-heap of a rotten world,' and set it blazing! Francois, his Father's synonym, came to be representative of the family, after all; the elder Brother also having died before long. Except certain confused niece-and-nephew personages, progeny of the sisters, Francois has no more trouble or solacement from the paternal household. Francois meanwhile is his Father's synonym, and signs Arouet Junior, 'Francois Aroue l. j. (LE JEUNE).'
"'All of us Princes, then, or Poets!' said he, one night at supper, looking to right and left: the brightest fellow in the world, well fit to be Phoebus Apollo of such circles; and great things now ahead of him. Dissolute Regent d'Orleans, politest, most debauched of men, and very witty, holds the helm; near him Dubois the Devil's Cardinal, and so many bright spirits. All the Luciferous Spiritualism there is in France is lifting anchor, under these auspices, joyfully towards new latitudes and Isles of the Blest. What may not Francois hope to become? 'Hmph!' answers M. Arouet Senior, steadily, so long as he lives. Here are one or two subsequent phases, epochs or turning-points, of the young gentleman's career.
"PHASIS FIRST (1725-1728).—The accomplished Duc de Sulli (Year 1725, day not recorded), is giving in his hotel a dinner, such as usual; and a bright witty company is assembled;—the brightest young fellow in France sure to be there; and with his electric coruscations illuminating everything, and keeping the table in a roar. To the delight of most; not to that of a certain splenetic ill-given Duc de Rohan; grandee of high rank, great haughtiness, and very ill-behavior in the world; who feels impatient at the notice taken of a mere civic individual, Arouet Junior. 'Quel est done ce jeune homme qui parle si haut, Who is this young man that talks so loud, then?' exclaims the proud splenetic Duke. 'Monseigneur,' flashes the young man back upon him in an electric manner, 'it is one who does not drag a big name about with him; but who secures respect for the name he has!' Figure that, in the penetrating grandly clangorous voice (VOIX SOMBRE ET MAJESTUEUSE), and the momentary flash of eyes that attended it. Duc de Rohan rose, in a sulphurous frame of mind; and went his ways. What date? You ask the idle French Biographer in vain;—see only, after more and more inspection, that the incident is true; and with labor date it, summer of the Year 1725. Treaty of Utrecht itself, though all the Newspapers and Own Correspondents were so interested in it, was perhaps but a foolish matter to date in comparison!
"About a week after, M. Arouet Junior was again dining with the Duc de Sulli, and a fine company as before. A servant whispers him, That somebody has called, and wants him below. 'Cannot come,' answers Arouet; 'how can I, so engaged?' Servant returns after a minute or two: 'Pardon, Monsieur; I am to say, it is to do an act of beneficence that you are wanted below!' Arouet lays down his knife and fork; descends instantly to see what act it is. A carriage is in the court, and hackney-coach near it: 'Would Monsieur have the extreme goodness to come to the door of the carriage, in a case of necessity?' At the door of the carriage, hands seize the collar of him, hold him as in a vice; diabolic visage of Duc de Rohan is visible inside, who utters, looking to the hackney-coach, some "VOILA, Now then!" Whereupon the hackney-coach opens, gives out three porters, or hired bullies, with the due implements: scandalous actuality of horsewhipping descends on the back of poor Arouet, who shrieks and execrates to no purpose, nobody being near. 'That will do,' says Rohan at last, and the gallant ducal party drive off; young Arouet, with torn frills and deranged hair, rushing up stairs again, in such a mood as is easy to fancy. Everybody is sorry, inconsolable, everybody shocked; nobody volunteers to help in avenging. 'Monseigneur de Sulli, is not such atrocity done to one of your guests, an insult to yourself?' asks Arouet. 'Well, yes perhaps, but'—Monseigneur de Sulli shrugs his shoulders, and proposes nothing. Arouet withdrew, of course in a most blazing condition, to consider what he could, on his own strength, do in this conjuncture.
"His Biographer Duvernet says, he decided on doing two things: learning English and the small-sword exercise. [La Vie de Voltaire, par M—(a Geneve, 1786), pp. 55-57; or pp. 60-63, in his SECOND form of the Book. The "M—" is an Abbe Duvernet; of no great mark otherwise. He got into Revolution trouble afterwards, but escaped with his head; and republished his Book, swollen out somewhat by new "Anecdotes" and republican bluster, in this second instance; signing himself T. J. D. V—(Paris, 1797). A vague but not dark or mendacious little Book; with traces of real EYESIGHT in it,—by one who had personally known Voltaire, or at least seen and heard him.] He retired to the country for six months, and perfected himself in these two branches. Being perfect, he challenged Duc de Rohan in the proper manner; applying ingenious compulsives withal, to secure acceptance of the challenge. Rohan accepted, not without some difficulty, and compulsion at the Theatre or otherwise:—accepted, but withal confessed to his wife. The result was, no measuring of swords took place; and Rohan only blighted by public opinion, or incapable of farther blight that way, went at large; a convenient LETTRE DE CACHET having put Arouet again in the Bastille. Where for six months Arouet lodged a second time, the innocent not the guilty; making, we can well suppose, innumerable reflections on the phenomena of human life. Imprisonment once over, he hastily quitted for England; shaking the dust of ungrateful France off his feet,—resolved to change his unhappy name, for one thing.
"Smelfungus, denouncing the torpid fatuity of Voltaire's Biographers, says he never met with one Frenchman, even of the Literary classes, who could tell him whence this name VOLTAIRE originated. 'A PETITE TERRE, small family estate,' they said; and sent him hunting through Topographies, far and wide, to no purpose. Others answered, 'Volterra in Italy, some connection with Volterra,'—and seemed even to know that this was but fatuity. 'In ever-talking, ever-printing Paris, is it as in Timbuctoo, then, which neither prints nor has anything to print?' exclaims poor Smelfungus! He tells us at last, the name VOLTAIRE is a mere Anagram of AROUET L. J.—you try it; A.R.O.U.E.T.L.J.=V.O.L.T.A.I.R.E and perceive at once, with obligations to Smelfungus, that he has settled this small matter for you, and that you can be silent upon it forever thenceforth.
"The anagram VOLTAIRE, gloomily settled in the Bastille in this manner, can be reckoned a very famous wide-sounding outer result of the Rohan impertinence and blackguardism; but it is not worth naming beside the inner intrinsic result, of banishing Voltaire to England at this point of his course. England was full of Constitutionality and Freethinking; Tolands, Collinses, Wollastons, Bolingbrokes, still living; very free indeed. England, one is astonished to see, has its royal-republican ways of doing; something Roman in it, from Peerage down to Plebs; strange and curious to the eye of M. de Voltaire. Sciences flourishing; Newton still alive, white with fourscore years, the venerable hoary man; Locke's Gospel of Common Sense in full vogue, or even done into verse, by incomparable Mr. Pope, for the cultivated upper classes. In science, in religion, in politics, what a surprising 'liberty' allowed or taken! Never was a freer turn of thinking. And (what to M. de Voltaire is a pleasant feature) it is Freethinking with ruffles to its shirt and rings on its fingers;—never yet, the least, dreaming of the shirtless or SANSCULOTTIC state that lies ahead for it! That is the palmy condition of English Liberty, when M. de Voltaire arrives there.
"In a man just out of the Bastille on those terms, there is a mind driven by hard suffering into seriousness, and provoked by indignant comparisons and remembrances. As if you had elaborately ploughed and pulverized the mind of this Voltaire to receive with its utmost avidity, and strength of fertility, whatever seed England may have for it. That was a notable conjuncture of a man with circumstances. The question, Is this man to grow up a Court Poet; to do legitimate dramas, lampoons, witty verses, and wild spiritual and practical magnificences, the like never seen; Princes and Princesses recognizing him as plainly divine, and keeping him tied by enchantments to that poor trade as his task in life? is answered in the negative. No: and it is not quite to decorate and comfort your 'dry dung-heap' of a world, or the fortunate cocks that scratch on it, that the man Voltaire is here; but to shoot lightnings into it, and set it ablaze one day! That was an important alternative; truly of world-importance to the poor generations that now are; and it was settled, in good part, by this voyage to England, as one may surmise. Such is sometimes the use of a dissolute Rohan in this world; for the gods make implements of all manner of things.
"M. de Voltaire (for we now drop the Arouet altogether, and never hear of it more) came to England—when? Quitted England—when? Sorrow on all fatuous Biographers, who spend their time not in laying permanent foundation-stones, but in fencing with the wind!—I at last find indisputably, it was in 1726 that he came to England: [Got out of the Bastille, with orders to leave France, "29th April" of that year (OEuvres de Voltaire, i. 40 n.).] and he himself tells us that he 1728.' Spent, therefore, some two years there in all,—last year of George I.'s reign, and first of George II.'s. But mere inanity and darkness visible reign, in all his Biographies, over this period of his life, which was above all others worth investigating: seek not to know it; no man has inquired into it, probably no competent man now ever will. By hints in certain Letters of the period, we learn that he lodged, or at one time lodged, in 'Maiden Lane, Covent Garden;' one of those old Houses that yet stand in Maiden Lane: for which small fact let us be thankful. His own Letters of the period are dated now and then from 'Wandsworth.' Allusions there are to Bolingbroke; but the Wandsworth is not Bolingbroke's mansion, which stood in Battersea; the Wandsworth was one Edward Fawkener's; a man somewhat admirable to young Voltaire, but extinct now, or nearly so, in human memory. He had been a Turkey Merchant, it would seem, and nevertheless was admitted to speak his word in intellectual, even in political circles; which was wonderful to young Voltaire. This Fawkener, I think, became Sir Edward Fawkener, and some kind of 'Secretary to the Duke of Cumberland:'—I judge it to be the same Fawkener; a man highly unmemorable now, were it not for the young Frenchman he was hospitable to. Fawkener's and Bolingbroke's are perhaps the only names that turn up in Voltaire's LETTERS of this English Period: over which generally there reigns, in the French Biographies, inane darkness, with an intimation, half involuntary, that it SHOULD have been made luminous, and would if perfectly easy.
"We know, from other sources, that he had acquaintance with many men in England, with all manner of important men: Notes to Pope in Voltaire-English, visit of Voltaire to Congreve, Notes even to such as Lady Sundon in the interior of the Palace, are known of. The brightest young fellow in the world did not want for introductions to the highest quarters, in that time of political alliance, and extensive private acquaintance, between his Country and ours. And all this he was the man to improve, both in the trivial and the deep sense. His bow to the divine Princess Caroline and suite, could it fail in graceful reverence or what else was needed? Dexterous right words in the right places, winged with ESPRIT so called: that was the man's supreme talent, in which he had no match, to the last. A most brilliant, swift, far-glancing young man, disposed to make himself generally agreeable. For the rest, his wonder, we can see, was kept awake; wonder readily inclining, in his circumstances, towards admiration. The stereotype figure of the Englishman, always the same, which turns up in Voltaire's WORKS, is worth noting in this respect. A rugged surly kind of fellow, much-enduring, not intrinsically bad; splenetic without complaint, standing oddly inexpugnable in that natural stoicism of his; taciturn, yet with strange flashes of speech in him now and then, something which goes beyond laughter and articulate logic, and is the taciturn elixir of these two, what they call 'humor' in their dialect: this is pretty much the REVERSE of Voltaire's own self, and therefore all the welcomer to him; delineated always with a kind of mockery, but with evident love. What excellences are in England, thought Voltaire; no Bastille in it, for one thing! Newton's Philosophy annihilated the vortexes of Descartes for him; Locke's Toleration is very grand (especially if all is uncertain, and YOU are in the minority); then Collins, Wollaston and Company,—no vile Jesuits here, strong in their mendacious mal-odorous stupidity, despicablest yet most dangerous of creatures, to check freedom of thought! Illustrious Mr. Pope, of the Essay on Man, surely he is admirable; as are Pericles Bolingbroke, and many others. Even Bolingbroke's high-lacquered brass is gold to this young French friend of his.—Through all which admirations and exaggerations the progress of the young man, toward certain very serious attainments and achievements, is conceivable enough.
"One other man, who ought to be mentioned in the Biographies, I find Voltaire to have made acquaintance with, in England: a German M. Fabrice, one of several Brothers called Fabrice or Fabricius,—concerning whom, how he had been at Bender, and how Voltaire picked CHARLES DOUSE from the memory of him, there was already mention. The same Fabrice who held poor George I. in his arms while they drove, galloping, to Osnabriick, that night, IN EXTREMIS:—not needing mention again. The following is more to the point.
"Voltaire, among his multifarious studies while in England, did not forget that of economics: his Poem LA LIGUE,—surreptitiously printed, three years since, under that title (one Desfontaines, a hungry Ex-Jesuit, the perpetrator), [1723, VIE, par T. J. D. V. (that is, "M—" in the second form), p. 59.]—he now took in hand for his own benefit; washed it clean of its blots; christened it HENRIADE, under which name it is still known over all the world;—and printed it; published it here, by subscription, in 1726; one of the first things he undertook. Very splendid subscription; headed by Princess Caroline, and much favored by the opulent of quality. Which yielded an unknown but very considerable sum of thousands sterling, and grounded not only the world-renown but the domestic finance of M. de Voltaire. For the fame of the 'new epic,' as this HENRIADE was called, soon spread into all lands. And such fame, and other agencies on his behalf, having opened the way home for Voltaire, he took this sum of Thousands Sterling along with him; laid it out judiciously in some city lottery, or profitable scrip then going at Paris, which at once doubled the amount: after which he invested it in Corn-trade, Army Clothing, Barbary-trade, Commissariat Bacon-trade, all manner of well-chosen trades,—being one of the shrewdest financiers on record;—and never from that day wanted abundance of money, for one thing. Which he judged to be extremely expedient for a literary man, especially in times of Jesuit and other tribulation. 'You have only to watch,' he would say, 'what scrips, public loans, investments in the field of agio, are offered; if you exert any judgment, it is easy to gain there: do not the stupidest of mortals gain there, by intensely attending to it?'
"Voltaire got almost nothing by his Books, which he generally had to disavow, and denounce as surreptitious supposititious scandals, when some sharp-set Book-seller, in whose way he had laid the savory article as bait, chose to risk his ears for the profit of snatching and publishing it. Next to nothing by his Books; but by his fine finance-talent otherwise, he had become possessed of ample moneys. Which were so cunningly disposed, too, that he had resources in every Country; and no conceivable combination of confiscating Jesuits and dark fanatic Official Persons could throw him out of a livelihood, whithersoever he might be forced to run. A man that looks facts in the face; which is creditable of him. The vulgar call it avarice and the like, as their way is: but M. de Voltaire is convinced that effects will follow causes; and that it well beseems a lonely Ishmaelite, hunting his way through the howling wildernesses and confused ravenous populations of this world, to have money in his pocket. He died with a revenue of some 7,000 pounds a year, probably as good as 20,000 pounds at present; the richest literary man ever heard of hitherto, as well as the remarkablest in some other respects. But we have to mark the second phasis of his life [in which Friedrich now sees him], and how it grew out of this first one.
"PHASIS SECOND (1728-1733).—Returning home as if quietly triumphant, with such a talent in him, and such a sanction put upon it and him by a neighboring Nation, and by all the world, Voltaire was warmly received, in his old aristocratic circles, by cultivated France generally; and now in 1728, in his thirty-second year, might begin to have definite outlooks of a sufficiently royal kind, in Literature and otherwise. Nor is he slow, far from it, to advance, to conquer and enjoy. He writes successful literature, falls in love with women of quality; encourages the indigent and humble; eclipses, and in case of need tramples down, the too proud. He elegizes poor Adrienne Lecouvreur, the Actress,—our poor friend the Comte de Saxe's female friend; who loyally emptied out her whole purse for him, 30,000 pounds in one sum, that he might try for Courland, and whether he could fall in love with her of the Swollen Cheek there; which proved impossible. Elegizes Adrienne, slightly, and even buries her under cloud of night: ready to protect unfortunate females of merit. Especially theatrical females; having much to do in the theatre, which we perceive to be the pulpit or real preaching-place of cultivated France in those years. All manner of verse, all manner of prose, he dashes off with surprising speed and grace: showers of light spray for the moment; and always some current of graver enterprise, Siecle de Louis Quatorze or the like, going on beneath it. For he is a most diligent, swift, unresting man; and studies and learns amazingly in such a rackety existence. Victorious enough in some senses; defeat, in Literature, never visited him. His Plays, coming thick on the heels of one another, rapid brilliant pieces, are brilliantly received by the unofficial world; and ought to dethrone dull Crebillon, and the sleepy potentates of Poetry that now are. Which in fact is their result with the public; but not yet in the highest courtly places;—a defect much to be condemned and lamented.
"Numerous enemies arise, as is natural, of an envious venomous description; this is another ever-widening shadow in the sunshine. In fact we perceive he has, besides the inner obstacles and griefs, two classes of outward ones: There are Lions on his path and also Dogs. Lions are the Ex-Bishop of Mirepoix, and certain other dark Holy Fathers, or potent orthodox Official Persons. These, though Voltaire does not yet declare his heterodoxy (which, indeed, is but the orthodoxy of the cultivated private circles), perceive well enough, even by the HENRIADE, and its talk of 'tolerance,' horror of 'fanaticism' and the like, what this one's 'DOXY is; and how dangerous he, not a mere mute man of quality, but a talking spirit with winged words, may be;—and they much annoy and terrify him, by their roaring in the distance. Which roaring cannot, of course, convince; and since it is not permitted to kill, can only provoke a talking spirit into still deeper strains of heterodoxy for his own private behoof. These are the Lions on his path: beasts conscious to themselves of good intentions; but manifesting from Voltaire's point of view, it must be owned, a physiognomy unlovely to a degree. 'Light is superior to darkness, I should think,' meditates Voltaire; 'power of thought to the want of power! The ANE DE MIREPOIX (Ass of Mirepoix), [Poor joke of Voltaire's, continually applied to this Bishop, or Ex-Bishop,—who was thought, generally, a rather tenebrific man for appointment to the FEUILLE DES BENEFICES (charge of nominating Bishops, keeping King's conscience, &c.); and who, in that capacity, signed himself ANC (by no means "ANE," but "ANCIEN, Whilom") DE MIREPOIX,—to the enragement of Voltaire often enough.] pretending to use me in this manner, is it other, in the court of Rhadamanthus, than transcendent Stupidity, with transcendent Insolence superadded?' Voltaire grows more and more heterodox; and is ripening towards dangerous utterances, though he, strives to hold in.
"The Dogs upon his path, again, are all the disloyal envious persons of the Writing Class, whom his success has offended; and, more generally, all the dishonest hungry persons who can gain a morsel by biting him: and their name is legion. It must be owned, about as ugly a Doggery ('INFAME CANAILLE' he might well reckon them) as has, before or since, infested the path of a man. They are not hired and set on, as angry suspicion might suggest; but they are covertly somewhat patronized by the Mirepoix, or orthodox Official class. Scandalous Ex-Jesuit Desfontaines, Thersites Freron,—these are but types of an endless Doggery; whose names and works should be blotted out; whose one claim to memory is, that the riding man so often angrily sprang down, and tried horsewhipping them into silence. A vain attempt. The individual hound flies howling, abjectly petitioning and promising; but the rest bark all with new comfort, and even he starts again straightway. It is bad travelling in those woods, with such Lions and such Dogs. And then the sparsely scattered HUMAN Creatures (so we may call them in contrast, persons of Quality for most part) are not always what they should be. The grand mansions you arrive at, in this waste-howling solitude, prove sometimes essentially Robber-towers;—and there may be Armida Palaces, and divine-looking Armidas, where your ultimate fate is still worse.
'Que le monde est rempli d'enchanteurs, je ne dis rien d'enchanteresses!'
To think of it, the solitary Ishmaelite journeying, never so well mounted, through such a wilderness: with lions, dogs, human robbers and Armidas all about him; himself lonely, friendless under the stars:—one could pity him withal, though that is not the feeling he solicits; nor gets hitherto, even at this impartial distance.
"One of the beautiful creatures of Quality,—we hope, not an Armida,—who came athwart Voltaire, in these times, was a Madame du Chatelet; distinguished from all the others by a love of mathematics and the pure sciences, were it nothing else. She was still young, under thirty; the literary man still under forty. With her Husband, to whom she had brought a child, or couple of children, there was no formal quarrel; but they were living apart, neither much heeding the other, as was by no means a case without example at that time; Monsieur soldiering, and philandering about, in garrison or elsewhere; Madame, in a like humor, doing the best for herself in the high circles of society, to which he and she belonged. Most wearisome barren circles to a person of thought, as both she and M. de Voltaire emphatically admitted to one another, on first making acquaintance. But is there no help?
"Madame had tried the pure sciences and philosophies, in Books: but how much more charming, when they come to you as a Human Philosopher; handsome, magnanimous, and the wittiest man in the world! Young Madame was not regularly beautiful; but she was very piquant, radiant, adventurous; understood other things than the pure sciences, and could be abundantly coquettish and engaging. I have known her scuttle off, on an evening, with a couple of adventurous young wives of Quality, to the remote lodging of the witty M. de Voltaire, and make his dim evening radiant to him. [One of Voltaire's Letters.] Then again, in public crowds, I have seen them; obliged to dismount to the peril of Madame's diamonds, there being a jam of carriages, and no getting forward for half the day. In short, they are becoming more and more intimate, to the extremest degree; and, scorning the world, thank Heaven that they are mutually indispensable. Cannot we get away from this scurvy wasp's-nest of a Paris, thought they, and live to ourselves and our books?
"Madame was of high quality, one of the Breteuils; but was poor in comparison, and her Husband the like. An old Chateau of theirs, named Cirey, stands in a pleasant enough little valley in Champagne; but so dilapidated, gaunt and vacant, nobody can live in it. Voltaire, who is by this time a man of ample moneys, furnishes the requisite cash; Madame and he, in sweet symphony, concert the plans: Cirey is repaired, at least parts of it are, into a boudoir of the gods, regardless of expense; nothing ever seen so tasteful, so magnificent; and the two withdraw thither to study, in peace, what sciences, pure and other, they have a mind to. They are recognized as lovers, by the Parisian public, with little audible censure from anybody there,—with none at all from the easy Husband; who occasionally even visits Cirey, if he be passing that way; and is content to take matters as he finds them, without looking below the surface. [See (whosoever is curious) Madame de Grafigny, Vie Privee de Voltaire et de Madame du Chatelet (Paris, 1820). A six months of actual Letters written by poor Grafigny, while sheltering at Cirey, Winter and Spring, 1738-1739; straitened there in various respects,—extremely ill off for fuel, among other things. Rugged practical Letters, shadowing out to us, unconsciously oftenest, and like a very mirror, the splendid and the sordid, the seamy side and the smooth, of Life at Cirey, in her experience of it. Published, fourscore years after, under the above title.] For the Ten Commandments are at a singular pass in cultivated France at this epoch. Such illicit-idyllic form of life has been the form of Voltaire's since 1733,"—for some three years now, when Friedrich and we first make acquaintance with him. "It lasted above a dozen years more: an illicit marriage after its sort, and subject only to the liabilities of such. Perhaps we may look in upon the Cirey Household, ourselves, at some future time; and"—This Editor hopes not!
"Madame admits that for the first ten years it was, on the whole, sublime; a perfect Eden on Earth, though stormy now and then. [Lettres Inedites de Madame la Marquise du Chastelet; auxquelles on a joint une Dissertation (&c. of hers): Paris, 1806.] After ten years, it began to grow decidedly dimmer; and in the course of few years more, it became undeniably evident that M. de Voltaire 'did not love me as formerly:'—in fact, if Madame could have seen it, M. de Voltaire was growing old, losing his teeth, and the like; and did not care for anything as formerly! Which was a dreadful discovery, and gave rise to results by and by.
"In this retreat at Cirey, varied with flying visits to Paris, and kept awake by multifarious Correspondences, the quantity of Literature done by the two was great and miscellaneous. By Madame, chiefly in the region of the pure sciences, in Newtonian Dissertations, competitions for Prizes, and the like: really sound and ingenious Pieces, entirely forgotten long since. By Voltaire, in serious Tragedies, Histories, in light Sketches and deep Dissertations:—mockery getting ever wilder with him; the satirical vein, in prose and verse, amazingly copious, and growing more and more heterodox, as we can perceive. His troubles from the ecclesiastical or Lion kind in the Literary forest, still more from the rabid Doggery in it, are manifold, incessant. And it is pleasantly notable,—during these first ten years,—with what desperate intensity, vigilance and fierceness, Madame watches over all his interests and liabilities and casualties great and small; leaping with her whole force into M. de Voltaire's scale of the balance, careless of antecedences and consequences alike; flying, with the spirit of an angry brood-hen, at the face of mastiffs, in defence of any feather that is M. de Voltaire's. To which Voltaire replies, as he well may, with eloquent gratitude; with Verses to the divine Emilie, with Gifts to her, verses and gifts the prettiest in the world;—and industriously celebrates the divine Emilie to herself and all third parties.
"An ardent, aerial, gracefully predominant, and in the end somewhat termagant female figure, this divine Emilie. Her temper, radiant rather than bland, was none of the patientest on occasion; nor was M. de Voltaire the least of a Job, if you came athwart him the wrong way. I have heard, their domestic symphony was liable to furious flaws,—let us hope at great distances apart:—that 'plates' in presence of the lackeys, actual crockery or metal, have been known to fly from end to end of the dinner-table; nay they mention 'knives' (though only in the way of oratorical action); and Voltaire has been heard to exclaim, the sombre and majestic voice of him risen to a very high pitch: 'Ne me regardez tant de ces yeux hagards et louches, Don't fix those haggard sidelong eyes on me in that way!'—mere shrillness of pale rage presiding over the scene. But we hope it was only once in the quarter, or seldomer: after which the element would be clearer for some time. A lonesome literary man, who has got a Brood Phoenix to preside over him, and fly at the face of gods and men for him in that manner, ought to be grateful.
"Perhaps we shall one day glance, personally, as it were, into Cirey with our readers;"—Not with this Editor or his!—"It will turn out beyond the reader's expectation. Tolerable illicit resting-place, so far as the illicit can be tolerable, for a lonesome Man of Letters, who goes into the illicit. Helpfulness, affection, or the flattering image of such, are by no means wanting: squalls of infirm temper are not more frequent than in the most licit establishments of a similar sort. Madame, about this time, has a swift Palfrey, 'ROSSIGNOL (Nightingale)' the name of him; and gallops fairy-like through the winding valleys; being an ardent rider, and well-looking on horseback. Voltaire's study is inlaid with—the Grafigny knows all what:—mere china tiles, gilt sculptures, marble slabs, and the supreme of taste and expense: study fit for the Phoebus Apollo of France, so far as Madame could contrive it. Takes coffee with Madame, in the Gallery, about noon. And his bedroom, I expressly discern, [Letters of Voltaire.] looks out upon a running brook, the murmur of which is pleasant to one."
Enough, enough. We can perceive what kind of Voltaire it was to whom the Crown-Prince now addressed himself; and how luminous an object, shining afar out of the solitudes of Champagne upon the ardent young man, still so capable of admiration. Model Epic, HENRIADE; model History, CHARLES DOUZE; sublime Tragedies, CISAR, ALZIRE and others, which readers still know though with less enthusiasm, are blooming fresh in Friedrich's memory and heart; such Literature as man never saw before; and in the background Friedrich has inarticulately a feeling as if, in this man, there were something grander than all Literatures: a Reform of human Thought itself; a new "Gospel," good-tidings or God's-Message, by this man;—which Friedrich does not suspect, as the world with horror does, to be a new BA'SPEL, or Devil's-Message of bad-tidings! A sublime enough Voltaire; radiant enough, over at Cirey yonder. To all lands, a visible Phoebus Apollo, climbing the eastern steeps; with arrows of celestial "new light" in his quiver; capable of stretching many a big foul Python, belly uppermost, in its native mud, and ridding the poor world of her Nightmares and Mud-Serpents in some measure, we may hope!—
And so there begins, from this point, a lively Correspondence between Friedrich and Voltaire; which, with some interruptions of a notable sort, continued during their mutual Life; and is a conspicuous feature in the Biographies of both. The world talked much of it, and still talks; and has now at last got it all collected, and elucidated into a dimly legible form for studious readers. [Preuss, OEuvres de Frederic, (xxi. xxii. xxiii., Berlin, 1853); who supersedes the lazy French Editors in this matter.] It is by no means the diabolically wicked Correspondence it was thought to be; the reverse, indeed, on both sides;—but it has unfortunately become a very dull one, to the actual generation of mankind. Not without intrinsic merit; on the contrary (if you read intensely, and bring the extinct alive again), it sparkles notably with epistolary grace and vivacity; and, on any terms, it has still passages of biographical and other interest: but the substance of it, then so new and shining, has fallen absolutely commonplace, the property of all the world, since then; and is now very wearisome to the reader. No doctrine or opinion in it that you have not heard, with clear belief or clear disbelief, a hundred times, and could wish rather not to hear again. The common fate of philosophical originalities in this world. As a Biographical Document, it is worth a very strict perusal, if you are interested that way in either Friedrich or Voltaire: finely significant hints and traits, though often almost evanescent, so slight are they, abound in this Correspondence; frankness, veracity under graceful forms, being the rule of it, strange to say! As an illustration of Two memorable Characters, and of their Century; showing on what terms the sage Plato of the Eighteenth Century and his Tyrant Dionysius correspond, and what their manners are to one another, it may long have a kind of interest to mankind: otherwise it has not much left.
In Friedrich's History it was, no doubt, an important fact, that there lived a Voltaire along with him, twenty years his senior. With another Theory of the Universe than the Voltaire one, how much OTHER had Friedrich too been! But the Theory called by Voltaire's name was not properly of Voltaire's creating, but only of his uttering and publishing; it lay ready for everybody's finding, and could not well have been altogether missed by such a one as Friedrich. So that perhaps we exaggerate the effects of Voltaire on him, though undoubtedly they were considerable. Considerable; but not derived from this express correspondence, which seldom turns on didactic points at all; derived rather from Voltaire's Printed WORKS, where they lay derivable to all the world. Certain enough it is, Voltaire was at this time, and continued all his days, Friedrich's chief Thinker in the world; unofficially, the chief Preacher, Prophet and Priest of this Working King;—no better off for a spiritual Trismegistus was poor Friedrich in the world! On the practical side, Friedrich soon outgrew him,—perhaps had already outgrown, having far more veracity of character, and an intellect far better built in the silent parts of it, and trained too by hard experiences to know shadow from substance;—outgrew him, and gradually learned to look down upon him, occasionally with much contempt, in regard to the practical. But in all changes of humor towards Voltaire, Friedrich, we observe, considers him as plainly supreme in speculative intellect; and has no doubt but, for thinking and speaking, Nature never made such another. Which may be taken as a notable feature of Friedrich's History; and gives rise to passages between Voltaire and him, which will make much noise in time coming.
Here, meanwhile, faithfully presented though in condensed form, is the starting of the Correspondence; First Letter of it, and first Response. Two Pieces which were once bright as the summer sunrise on both sides, but are now fallen very dim; and have much needed condensation, and abridgment by omission of the unessential,—so lengthy are they, so extinct and almost dreary to us! Sublime "Wolf" and his "Philosophy," how he was hunted out of Halle with it, long since; and now shines from Marburg, his "Philosophy" and he supreme among mankind: this, and other extinct points, the reader's fancy will endeavor to rekindle in some slight measure:—
TO M. DE VOLTAIRE, AT CIREY (from the Crown-Prince).
"BERLIN, 8th August, 1736.
"MONSIEUR,—Although I have not the satisfaction of knowing you personally, you are not the less known to me through your Works. They are treasures of the mind, if I may so express myself; and they reveal to the reader new beauties at every fresh perusal. I think I have recognized in them the character of their ingenious Author, who does honor to our age and to human nature. If ever the dispute on the comparative merits of the Moderns and the Ancients should be revived, the modern great men will owe it to you, and to you only, that the scale is turned in their favor. With the excellent quality of Poet you join innumerable others more or less related to it. Never did Poet before put Metaphysics into rhythmic cadence: to you the honor was reserved of doing it first.
"This taste for Philosophy manifested in your writings, induces me to send you a translated Copy of the Accusation and defence of M. Wolf, the most celebrated Philosopher of our days; who, for having carried light into the darkest places of Metaphysics, is cruelly accused of irreligion and atheism. Such is the destiny of great men; their superior genius exposes them to the poisoned arrows of calumny and envy. I am about getting a Translation made of the Treatise on God, the Soul, and the World,"—Translation done by an Excellency Suhm, as has been hinted,—"from the pen of the same Author. I will send it you when it is finished; and I am sure that the force of evidence in all his propositions, and their close geometrical sequence, will strike you.
"The kindness and assistance you afford to all who devote themselves to the Arts and Sciences, makes me hope that you will not exclude me from the number of those whom you find worthy of your instructions:—it is so I would call your intercourse by Correspondence of Letters; which cannot be other than profitable to every thinking being....
... "beauties without number in your works. Your HENRIADE delights me. The tragedy of CESAR shows us sustained characters; the sentiments in it are magnificent and grand, and one feels that Brutus is either a Roman, or else an Englishman (ou un Romain ou un Anglais). Your ALZIRE, to the graces of novelty adds...
"Monsieur, there is nothing I wish so much as to possess all your Writings," even those not printed hitherto. "Pray, Monsieur, do communicate them to me without reserve. If there be amongst your Manuscripts any that you wish to conceal from the eyes of the public, I engage to keep them in the profoundest secrecy. I am unluckily aware, that the faith of Princes is an object of little respect in our days; nevertheless I hope you will make an exception from the general rule in my favor. I should think myself richer in the possession of your Works than in that of all the transient goods of Fortune. These the same chance grants and takes away: your Works one can make one's own by means of memory, so that they last us whilst it lasts. Knowing how weak my own memory is, I am in the highest degree select in what I trust to it.
"If Poetry were what it was before your appearance, a strumming of wearisome idyls, insipid eclogues, tuneful nothings, I should renounce it forever:" but in your hands it becomes ennobled; a melodious "course of morals; worthy of the admiration and the study of cultivated minds (DES HONNETES GENS). You"—in fine, "you inspire the ambition to follow in your footsteps. But I, how often have I said to myself: 'MALHEUREUX, throw down a burden which is above thy strength! One cannot imitate Voltaire, without being Voltaire!'
"It is in such moments that I have felt how small are those advantages of birth, those vapors of grandeur, with which vanity would solace us! They amount to little, properly to nothing (POUR MIEUX DIRE, RIEN). Nature, when she pleases, forms a great soul, endowed with faculties that can advance the Arts and Sciences; and it is the part of Princes to recompense his noble toils. Ah, would Glory but make use of me to crown your successes! My only fear would be, lest this Country, little fertile in laurels, proved unable to furnish enough of them.
"If my destiny refuse me the happiness of being able to possess you, may I, at least, hope one day to see the man whom I have admired so long now from afar; and to assure you, by word of mouth, that I am,—With all the esteem and consideration due to those who, following the torch of truth for guide, consecrate their labors to the Public,—Monsieur, your affectionate friend,
"FREDERIC, P. R. of Prussia."
[OEuvres de Frederic, xxi. 6.]
By what route or conveyance this Letter went, I cannot say. In general, it is to be observed, these Friedrich-Voltaire Letters—liable perhaps to be considered contraband at BOTH ends of their course—do not go by the Post; but by French-Prussian Ministers, by Hamburg Merchants, and other safe subterranean channels. Voltaire, with enthusiasm, and no doubt promptly, answers within three weeks:—
TO THE CROWN-PRINCE, AT REINSBERG (from Voltaire).
"CIREY, 26th August, 1736.
"MONSEIGNEUR,—A man must be void of all feeling who were not infinitely moved by the Letter which your Royal Highness has deigned to honor me with. My self-love is only too much flattered by it: but my love of Mankind, which I have always nourished in my heart, and which, I venture to say, forms the basis of my character, has given me a very much purer pleasure,—to see that there is, now in the world, a Prince who thinks as a man; a PHILOSOPHER Prince, who will make men happy.
"Permit me to say, there is not a man on the earth but owes thanks for the care you take to cultivate by sound philosophy a soul that is born for command. Good kings there never were except those that had begun by seeking to instruct themselves; by knowing-good men from bad; by loving what was true, by detesting persecution and superstition. No Prince, persisting in such thoughts, but might bring back the golden age into his Countries! And why do so few Princes seek this glory? You feel it, Monseigneur, it is because they all think more of their Royalty than of Mankind. Precisely the reverse is your case:—and, unless, one day, the tumult of business and the wickedness of men alter so divine a character, you will be worshipped by your People, and loved by the whole world. Philosophers, worthy of the name, will flock to your States; thinkers will crowd round that throne, as the skilfulest artisans do to the city where their art is in request. The illustrious Queen Christina quitted her kingdom to go in search of the Arts; reign you, Monseigneur, and the Arts will come to seek you.
"May you only never be disgusted with the Sciences by the quarrels of their Cultivators! A race of men no better than Courtiers; often enough as greedy, intriguing, false and cruel as these," and still more ridiculous in the mischief they do. "And how sad for mankind that the very Interpreters of Heaven's commandments, the Theologians, I mean, are sometimes the most dangerous of all! Professed messengers of the Divinity, yet men sometimes of obscure ideas and pernicious behavior; their soul blown out with mere darkness; full of gall and pride, in proportion as it is empty of truths. Every thinking being who is not of their opinion is an Atheist; and every King who does not favor them will be damned. Dangerous to the very throne; and yet intrinsically insignificant:" best way is, leave their big talk and them alone; speedy collapse will follow....
"I cannot sufficiently thank your Royal Highness for the gift of that little Book about Monsieur Wolf. I respect Metaphysical ideas; rays of lightning they are in the midst of deep night. More, I think, is not to be hoped from Metaphysics. It does not seem likely that the First-principles of things will ever be known. The mice that nestle in some little holes of an immense Building, know not whether it is eternal, or who the Architect, or why he built it. Such mice are we; and the Divine Architect who built the Universe has never, that I know of, told his secret to one of us. If anybody could pretend to guess correctly, it is M. Wolf." Beautiful in your Royal Highness to protect such a man. And how beautiful it will be, to send me his chief Book, as you have the kindness to promise! "The Heir of a Monarchy, from his palace, attending to the wants of a recluse far off! Condescend to afford me the pleasure of that Book, Monseigneur....
"What your Royal Highness thinks of poetry is just: verses that do not teach men new and touching truths, do not deserve to be read." As to my own poor verses—But, after all, "that HENRIADE is the writing of an Honest Man: fit, in that sense, that it find grace with a Philosopher Prince.
"I will obey your commands as to sending those unpublished Pieces. You shall be my public, Monseigneur; your criticisms will be my reward: it is a price few Sovereigns can pay. I am sure of your secrecy: your virtue and your intellect must be in proportion. I should indeed consider it a precious happiness to come and pay my court to your Royal Highness! One travels to Rome to see paintings and ruins: a Prince such as you is a much more singular object; worthier of a long journey! But the friendship [divine Emilie's] which keeps me in this retirement does not permit my leaving it. No doubt you think with Julian, that great and much calumniated man, who said, 'Friends should always be preferred to Kings.'
"In whatever corner of the world I may end my life, be assured, Monseigneur, my wishes will continually be for you,—that is to say, for a whole People's happiness. My heart will rank itself among your subjects; your glory will ever be dear to me. I shall wish, May you always be like yourself, and may other Kings be like you!—I am, with profound respect, your Royal Highness's most humble
[OEuvres de Frederic, xxi. 10.]
The Correspondence, once kindled, went on apace; and soon burst forth, finding nourishment all round, into a shining little household fire, pleasant to the hands and hearts of both parties. Consent of opinions on important matters is not wanting; nor is emphasis in declaring the same. The mutual admiration, which is high,—high and intrinsic on Friedrich's side; and on Voltaire's, high if in part extrinsic,—by no means wants for emphasis of statement: superlatives, tempered by the best art, pass and repass. Friedrich, reading Voltaire's immortal Manuscripts, confesses with a blush, before long, that he himself is a poor Apprentice that way. Voltaire, at sight of the Princely Productions, is full of admiration, of encouragement; does a little in correcting, solecisms of grammar chiefly; a little, by no means much. But it is a growing branch of employment; now and henceforth almost the one reality of function Voltaire can find for himself in this beautiful Correspondence. For, "Oh what a Crown-Prince, ripening forward to be the delight of human nature, and realize the dream of sages, Philosophy upon the Throne!" And on the other side, "Oh what a Phoebus Apollo, mounting the eastern sky, chasing the Nightmares,—sowing the Earth with Orient pearl, to begin with!"—In which fine duet, it must be said, the Prince is perceptibly the truer singer; singing within compass, and from the heart; while the Phoebus shows himself acquainted with art, and warbles in seductive quavers, now and then beyond the pitch of his voice. We must own also, Friedrich proves little seducible; shows himself laudably indifferent to such siren-singing;—perhaps more used to flattery, and knowing by experience how little meal is to be made of chaff. Voltaire, in an ungrateful France, naturally plumes himself a good deal on such recognition by a Foreign Rising Sun; and, of the two, though so many years the elder, is much more like losing head a little.
Elegant gifts are despatched to Cirey; gold-amber trinkets for Madame, perhaps an amber inkholder for Monsieur: priceless at Cirey as the gifts of the very gods. By and by, a messenger goes express: the witty Colonel Keyserling, witty but experienced, whom we once named at Reinsberg; he is to go and see with his eyes, since his Master cannot. What a messenger there; ambassador from star to star! Keyserling's report at Reinsberg is not given; but we have Grafigny's, which is probably the more impartial. Keyserling's embassy was in the end of next year; [3d November, 1737 (as we gather from the Correspondence).] and there is plenty of airy writing about it and him, in these Letters.
Friedrich has translated the name KEYSERLING (diminutive of KAISER) into "Caesarion;"—and I should have said, he plays much upon names and also upon things, at Reinsberg, in that style; and has a good deal of airy symbolism, and cloud-work ingeniously painted round the solidities of his life there. Especially a "Bayard Order," as he calls it: Twelve of his selectest Friends made into a Chivalry Brotherhood, the names of whom are all changed, "Caesarion" one of them; with dainty devices, and mimetic procedures of the due sort. Which are not wholly mummery; but have a spice of reality, to flavor them to a serious young heart. For the selection was rigorous, superior merit and behavior a strict condition; and indeed several of these Bayard Chevaliers proved notable practical Champions in time coming;—for example Captain Fouquet, of whom we have heard before, in the dark Custrin days. This is a mentionable feature of the Reinsberg life, and of the young Prince's character there: pleasant to know of, from this distance; but not now worth knowing more in detail.
The Friedrich-Voltaire Correspondence contains much incense; due whiffs of it, from Reinsberg side, to the "divine Emilie," Voltaire's quasi better-half or worse-half; who responds always in her divinest manner to Reinsberg, eager for more acquaintance there. The Du Chatelets had a Lawsuit in Brabant; very inveterate, perhaps a hundred years old or more; with the "House of Honsbrouck:" [Lettres Inedites de Voltaire (Paris, 1826), p. 9.] this, not to speak of other causes, flights from French peril and the like, often brought Voltaire and his Dame into those parts; and gave rise to occasional hopes of meeting with Friedrich; which could not take effect. In more practical style, Voltaire solicits of him: "Could not your Royal Highness perhaps graciously speak to some of those Judicial Big wigs in Brabant, and flap them up a little!" Which Friedrich, I think, did, by some good means. Happily, by one means or other, Voltaire got the Lawsuit ended,—1740, we might guess, but the time is not specified;—and Friedrich had a new claim, had there been need of new, to be regarded with worship by Madame. [Record of all this, left, like innumerable other things there, in an intrinsically dark condition, lies in Voltaire's LETTERS,—not much worth hunting up into clear daylight, the process being so difficult to a stranger.] But the proposed meeting with Madame could never take effect; not even when Friedrich's hands were free. Nay I notice at last, Friedrich had privately determined it never should—Madame evidently an inconvenient element to him. A young man not wanting in private power of eyesight; and able to distinguish chaff from meal! Voltaire and he will meet; meet, and also part; and there will be passages between them:—and the reader will again hear of this Correspondence of theirs, where it has a biographical interest. We are to conceive it, at present, as a principal light of life to the young heart at Reinsberg; a cheerful new fire, almost an altar-fire, irradiating the common dusk for him there.